Supreme Court strong-arms California judge to follow its ruling exempting churches from COVID restrictions
Amy Coney Barrett (AFP)

One week ago today the U.S. Supreme Court sided with a group of New York churches and synagogues, overruling Governor Cuomo and declaring that even in a deadly pandemic that now is breaking new records, houses of worship are exempt from coronavirus restrictions on attendance maximums.

Now, in what experts are calling an "essentially unprecedented" and "unusual move," the Supreme Court has just basically pressured a California trial judge to obey its ruling in the New York case.

Critics likened the New York ruling by the new Trump conservative-majority justices to "The Handmaid's Tale," where fascism, religion, and the Bible trump the law and common sense. Justice Sonia Sotomayor slammed her conservative colleagues in her dissent, accusing them of playing a "deadly game."

Now the Supreme Court seems to be expanding its sectarian wings.

On Thursday the Supreme Court sent a California church's request for "injunctive relief," meaning a request it rule immediately in its favor, to a federal appeals court. But, in the unusual move, the one-paragraph unsigned order directed the appeals court to send the case back to a lower court "for further consideration in light of Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo," the New York case it decided last week.

In other words, the Supreme Court has effectively said to the nation that despite the deadly pandemic that has taken more than 270,000 lives, states cannot restrict the number of worshippers who want to crowd into a church.

"In the spring," USA Today notes, "the court refused to lift restrictions on churches in California and Nevada when Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court's four liberals."

"Since then, Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to succeed Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, giving conservatives a 6-3 majority. Roberts and the remaining three liberal justices dissented from the New York ruling."